Jean Claude Jones with Friends

Jean Claude Jones with Friends
Kadima Collective

J.C. Jones with Friends
Duos II
Kadima Collective

Ariel Shibolet
Metal Tube & Consciousness
Leo Records

By Ken Waxman
September 5, 2005

Boasting – if that’s the right word – the only flourishing Free Improv scene in the Middle East, except for some faint stirrings in Lebanon, Israel is beginning to amass a number of improvisers able to hold their own in any context.

Already a few of the more adventurous have become better known, as they, like countless players before them from many countries have emigrated to larger music centres. Reedists Assif Tsahar and Ori Kaplan have made their mark in New York, while fusion-oriented drummer Asaf Sirkis has become recognized in London.

More crucially, others – some of whom immigrated to Israel from elsewhere – are involved with creating a vibrant homegrown scene. That’s where the Kadima Collective comes into the picture. With funding from the United States, Kadima, under the de facto leadership of Tunisian-born, French-raised, Berklee College grad, bassist Jean Claude Jones, promotes concerts and produces CDs in its own studio with the aim of connecting creative local improvisers with one another. Kadima’s first two CDs feature players duetting with Jones, who has been associated with the Jazz Department of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance since 1987.

On hand are a violinist from the United States, a Norwegian-born cellist, a veteran South African born poet and clarinetist, Sabra musicians who emphasize either vocals or woodwinds, and one ringer: American bass clarinetist and alto saxophonist Ned Rothenberg. Soprano saxophonist Ariel Shibolet, one of the three impressive reedists featured on the two discs – alto and baritone saxophonist Gal Lev and flautist Albert Berger are the others – has recorded own solo session, Metal Tube & Consciousness.

Performances on the Kadima CDs range from divine to dreadful, with most listing towards the former attribute. Unfortunately, a minority of the participants sound undisciplined rather than free, as if this is their first experiment in free improv. Most of the spoken word/vocal performances are a bit abstruse as well, relating more to dadaesque sounds or Beat jazz-and-poetry than hard core improv. Linked to the tradition of Allen Ginsberg, Jaap Blonk or Shelley Hirsch, these verbal/vocal performances are a bit remote from the other improvisations.

On the plus side, the one foreigner, Rothenberg, recorded live, doesn’t mute his ideas in this context. There’s no hesitancy in his fantasia of multiphonics, overblowing and other extended techniques. A world traveler who has performed in Russia, the Baltic states, South Korea and Japan, and whose collaborators have included tabla player Samir Chaterjee and British reedist Evan Parker, playing in Israel is merely another surmountable challenge for him. Jones, who has improvised with saxophonists as different as Arnie Lawrence, Dave Liebman and Stan Getz, is comfortable in this setting as well.

On “Petit Echo”, for example, Jones thumps spiccato lines and squeaks from his strings to meet Rothenberg’s wiggling freak notes and curlicue double tonguing and snorting. Further harsh tones from the reedist are met with reverberating pulsations. Then “Pizsa” begins with pitched intensity from Rothenberg’s tongue fluttering and Jones’ strummed bass lines. When the American begins a sprightly melody in a higher node, the Israeli fingerpops behind him. Later, there’s a comb-and-tissue-paper roughness in the reedist’s tone as he pushes and pulls doubled timbres up and down the scale. That’s perfectly matched with banjo-like clanking and what appears to be a drum stick bopping on Jones’ bass strings.

Former American, Klezmer violinist Daniel Hoffman doesn’t come across as impressively. His two improvisations with Jones are mostly concerned with the sort of trilling-sparrow pitches that can be produced by undulating bow pressure on the highest partials. Thus Jones provides low-pitched tremolo undertones on one tune and doubles the fiddler’s line in the upper register on the other.

Norwegian-born cellist Yuval Mesner, whose experience encompasses stints in World music, flamenco-jazz and rock bands, fares much better. Apparently emboldened by his touring experience, he embraces atonality, stabbing the strings for harsh notes, moving past standard tuning for elevated tones and is unafraid of staccato squealing. Contrapuntally, the bassist counters with partials and quarter tones at points tapping his strings, and evolving in curving, double-stopping unison with the cellist.

With a similarly eclectic background as lead singer in a progressive rock band and as a member of vocal ensemble, Maya Dunietz’s three improvisations reveal a surprisingly adept pianist. Still, there are times her five fingered rumbles and darting dynamics hint at avant-garde parody. Especially in the second improvisation when her hyper-kinetic cadences seem to roister into a stupefied quasi-Ragtime, following an episode of tiny animal scratches from the bassist, you apprehensively wonder if she’s spoofing or serious.

The third improv underscores the question as she skips arpeggios across the keys like a child skimming a stone across the water. Piling on as many note clusters and octave runs as possible, she adds childlike Wicked Witch of the West vocal noises. All this is in response to sweeping portamento from Jones that appears to allow his axe to moo, bovine-like.

Someone whose jazz experience has encompassed gigs with New York-based saxman Kaplan, pianist Daniel Sarid and Albert Berger, who is featured on one long improvisation on disc one, percussionist Hagai Fershtman appears to be more about body English than subtlety on his three duets with Jones. As the bassist also uses electronics here, his spiccato soloing is sometimes jumbled among glass-splintering timbres. Responding with quick action from bells, cymbals and ratcheting percussion, the whirl-drum echoes Fershtman produces suggest African rather than Middle Eastern roots.

Overall, however, for elevated jazz/improv essence the individual duets between Jones and the three Sabra reedmen – Berger on flute, Shibolet on soprano saxophone, and, most impressively, on eight tracks split between the two discs, Gan Lev on alto and baritone saxophones – are most satisfying.

Usually a saxophonist, whose most recent CD is dedicated to Steve Lacy, Berger concentrates on lower-pitched, mouth-breathing flute vibrations on his track. Alternating vocal cries and fripple-blocked textures, his tone is both dense and stately. Vibrating stark, gong-like sine waves and bell-like pulsations, Jones’ electronics throb beneath the flute lines, and he also adds bass continuum. Next time it would be advantageous to hear Berger on saxophone though

Commanding saxophone presence arises from Lev, a former member of the Israeli Saxophone Quartet, who has performed with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. “Snake Me”, on the second CD, is one definite performance where he blows not only saxophone but home-made didjeridoo. Soon doubled timbres split into higher-pitched elephant –trumpeting mixed with percussive rumbling from his other horn. Using sympathetic flattement he makes the vibrating lines more sonorous, somehow simultaneously honking a Klezmer-like line. When he isn’t providing a cushioning obbligato for himself, the bassman’s deliberate plucking fills the bill, sometimes sul tasto, sometimes sul ponticello.

It’s not only Lev’s full-bodied baritone sax growls that impress, but – as he shows on “Improvisation No. 3” on the first disc — his commanding alto saxophone presence. Here he reaches a crescendo of rough, yet placid alto textures that appear to double tongue into bagpipe chanter suggestions. Trebling tones in staccato counterpoint with themselves, probably some of the extra high-pitched colors arise from the bassist’s electronics. In the mean time, the bull fiddler seems to be occupied with creating pedal point accompaniment.

A decade younger than Lev, Shibolet is also a member of the Tel Aviv Art Ensemble, a local Free Jazz band. On the first disc here his two short selections are dedicated to the late German bassist Peter Kowald, whose solo work as well as his virtuosity affected him as much as they did Jones. The later may be using piezo pickups to extend the rough edges of his strings so as not to replicate the Kowald style, even though most of his work here encompasses swiped textures. For his part, Shibolet blows pure colored air through his horn, the better to emphasize its metallic qualities. Elsewhere he uses tongue slaps and barking shrills.

Those sorts of actions appear in abundance on Metal Tube & Consciousness, his solo CD, along with other extended techniques such as gravelly throat crackles and whistled watery tones. Those show up on “Field n.1”, along with polyphonic scratched and scraped metal and a short coda of bubbly blowing. Besides patches of circular breathing Shibolet climbs the scale – with a pinched ney-like tone on “For Bach III”; turns a piercing and vibrating arched pitch into a shofar suggestion on “Black Stone On A Plate”; and somehow manages to imply the ruggedness of an atonal Gaelic ballad with dissonant circular breathing on “Slow Irish Circles”.

Metal Tube’s opening track, “Slow Change, Slow Development” is an almost 10- minute tour de force of glottal punctuation with vibrato and tonguing changes. Pushing his output into split tones, midway through, Shibolet’s single horn creates a constant ostinato interrupted at time by higher-pitched trills. It’s as if he had a chanter as well as a reed, expanding on the bagpipe emulations Lev produces on his Kadmina duets. Squeaking and pushing out serpentine lines, Shibolet constructs entire phrases in altissimo without losing the thread of the melody, climaxing by producing two circular-breathed lines which seem to fill all the sound spaces.

“Epilogue”, the 16th and finale tune is just that. Focusing on producing unvarying straight lines that add a certain gravitas to the proceedings, this theme echoes the first track. Both a postlude and a summing up of what went before, it rounds the improvisational circle with a smooth legato conclusion.

On the evidence here, Israeli free musicians seem as advanced sonically as their society as a whole is socially. Shibolet has made his global debut. Now what’s needed is more CDs from him and a few more, widely distributed discs by a selection of the musicians in the Kadima Collective.